As we sit in the beginning of the new decade, it is interesting to reflect back on the past 10 years and think about how far we have come. At this time 10 years ago, many key events were happening.
Our new commander in chief was sworn in. We had been through a horrid partisan struggle with claims of election fraud, lying or miss-statements of fact, re-writing of history, attempted re-writing of election laws and the constitution, a leader that stood at a podium, obviously reading lines that had been written for him by someone else, etc. But after all of that, it seemed like the president was going to be kind of boring compared to his illustrious predecessor.
We had also just survived the dreaded Y2K (perceived disaster/debacle), and many of us were still waiting for the world as we knew it to come to an end. That was the most over-reported, man-made disaster in history.
There were many things occurring in our industry at the same time. Among them: word was coming out that the much-dreaded EPA 2004 mandate was being moved forward to 2002, we were in the midst of a declining economy and fuel prices had hit $1.50. It seemed that the obstacles we faced were far greater than the industry could cope with effectively.
Now, we are in the next new decade. There is no Y2K type of threat. In its place, though, are the fears of polar bears floating past a partially submerged Miami and a sort of world government telling us that we need to stop doing everything that makes us Americans and must start acting like the rest of the world.
We have a new president - who is anywhere but boring, and all of the post-election partisanship and more. Diesel fuel is $2 lower, down from nearly $5. And oh, yeah, that declining economy that we saw in 2000 - child's play by comparison to our current situation.
Our industry has survived EPA 2004 and sort of survived EPA 2007. Now we are facing EPA 2010 and it seems that there is a resignation that we all will accept the major contusions that occurred as a result of the tanking truck and freight market and live with whatever is to come.
There is now a great struggle going on regarding the methods by which truck and engine manufacturers achieve the reductions in NOx and particulate emissions, although, we don't know how big that problem really is because no one is buying new trucks.
I am a firm believer that the recovery has begun in our industry and the economy, but the recovery is going to be a long ride down a very bumpy road. All of the fundamentals need to improve greatly if we are to see a marked improvement in the industry. Construction, roads, employment, lending and liquidity, all need to improve before we will start to see a turnaround.
The wildcard in all of this is a group of about 537 people in our nation's capitol. They are driving changes in laws, regulations, rules, taxing, spending and many other areas that will directly affect this industry. They are talking about new labor laws; limiting the amount of CO2 an internal combustion engine can emit; hours of service; truck lengths and weights; who repairs vehicles; and then there is the whole healthcare debate.
This industry and others are in for real challenge as all of the changes are railroaded through with blinding speed.
About now, you may be asking yourself: "Where the heck is he going with all of this?"
Quite frankly, I am in a position of advocacy for the members of my organization of truck parts manufacturers and their interests. We have achieved some minor victories over bad rules, laws and regulations. More importantly, we have worked with our elected and staff level people in government to try to get them to write laws, regulations and rules in a way that doesn't hurt our industry too much.
My message to all of you that are still reading is this: Get involved in your industry and with your individual elected officials. Make sure that they understand how all of these things affect your lives and businesses.
They need to hear from you. They are all willing, especially during an election year, to listen to their constituents - you, the ones that vote and donate money to campaigns. Help them understand how their actions, while almost always very noble, affect your day-to-day lives and your ability to earn a living.
Join a trade association like mine, or the ATA, Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Wholesalers, National Association of Manufacturers or any of the specialty groups representing your particular areas of interest.
In this country, you can make a big difference.
Sitting around complaining about what is going on is fun, but it accomplishes little. You can write, call or visit your elected officials. Invite them to your place of business when they are home from D.C. They are elected to represent you and will willingly visit with you, or your association.
Keep in mind that you represent votes, and sometimes, campaign contributions.
Tim Kraus is Executive Director of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. Prior to joining HDMA, he served as director of sales and marketing at Triseal Corp. The Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) is the heavy duty market segment association of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Associations (MEMA). HDMA exclusively represents the interests and serves heavy duty product manufacturers.